Berkeley victims remembered a year after tragedy

(From top left) Eoghan Culligan Olivia Burke, Ashley Donohoe, Lorcan Miller, Niccolai Schuster, Eimear Walsh all died in the accident
(From top left) Eoghan Culligan Olivia Burke, Ashley Donohoe, Lorcan Miller, Niccolai Schuster, Eimear Walsh all died in the accident

THE first anniversary of the Berkeley balcony collapse tragedy will be marked this week by ceremonies in both Ireland and California.

Six Irish students plunged to their deaths and seven others suffered serious injuries when the apartment balcony suddenly gave way.

The family of Irish-American student Ashley Donohoe are expected to attend a memorial mass on Wednesday at Saint Columba’s Church in Oakland.

Ashley, Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcán Miller and Eimear Walsh all died in the horrific tragedy last year.

Aoife Beary, Clodagh Cogley, Sean Fahey, Conor Flynn, Jack Halpin, Niall Murray and Hannah Waters were badly hurt, some suffering life-changing injuries.

The emergency workers who arrived at the Library Gardens Apartments on 2020 Kittredge Street on June 15 have been telling their stories and the bond they formed with the survivors and their families.

One report into how the emergency crews handled the response recalled the scene that greeted them as they arrived.

“The dead and injured were lying amid the rubble as their friends tried to do what they could to help,” the report stated.

“Some were holding their friends, some were turned away, shocked and upset. Police were scattered throughout the scene, trying to establish some semblance of order.

“The seasoned fire captain hadn’t been prepared to be visually hit with the scope of this incident so suddenly.

“He’d expected to roll into it and gather the information as they took the block, as they often do; slowly building the scene as his crew arrived. Instead, the initial scene will be burned in his memory forever.”

More than a dozen members of the Berkeley police and fire departments marched in this year’s St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin.

The briefing of emergency crews was one of many investigations launched in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Last March the authorities in California announced that after a painstaking investigation no criminal charges would be brought over the collapse.

The construction firm which built the apartments at Berkeley is being sued by a number of the families of the dead and injured.

The investigation by the California Contractors State License Board found that “poor workmanship” resulted in water damage to the balcony that caused it to rot and collapse.

Thousands of balconies in the area have since been inspected in a bid to prevent a repeat of the tragedy.

Parents of the victims are expected to testify in the complex civil suits this month.

Depositions will be taken in Dublin and played to a court in California.

One parent representing each of the deceased victims will make a deposition.

The multi-million law suits have been complicated as the construction firm has launched its own cases against various sub-contractors and suppliers.

Also before the courts are the building’s owners and the management companies which operated the apartment block.

The students had been in Berkeley on the J1 visa programme.

The dead and inured had been standing together on the balcony celebrating a 21st birthday when it suddenly collapsed, throwing the students 12 metres to the street below.